George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James McHenry, 3 April 1794

From James McHenry

Fayetteville [Md.] 3d April 1794


I ought to have mentioned in the letter which I took the liberty to write to you a few days since what I had then chiefly in my mind abstracted from the personal consideration of health.1

I thought that perhaps it might come within your view at this juncture to send a commissioned person to Vienna to solicit the release of Mr la Fayette with powers to proceed to France on a like errand in favor of his wife and children, in order that the whole might be removed to this country.2

I perceive by the act of Congress for discharging his pay during the war the new obligation you have laid up on your unfortunate friend.3 If it is possible to go beyond pecuniary aid, or so far as to restore him to liberty and his family how would he rejoice to owe that blessing to the man he affectionates most upon earth; and what sublime pleasure to me to be an humble instrument in its accomplishment. The friendship he has always expressed for me; the friendship I feel for him; a conviction of the patriotism of his principles and purity of his motives; the esteem in which he is still held by America; a remembrance of the moment and his youth when he embarked in our cause, and the services he rendered it in the course of our revolution, all conspire to make such a project peculiarly interesting to the feeling heart: at the same time, Sir, you must be sensible, you who on former occasions have not deemed me unworthy some portion of your confidence, that such a mission would reflect upon you its author, and from whom alone it ought to proceed, as long as exalted friendship shall be ranked among the virtues, a lustre which philosophy must delight to contemplate and history to diffuse among mankind for their benefit or instruction. The friendship of Achilles for his dear Patroclus, as celebrated by Homer, has survived the fate of empires and the charges of time, as if destined to serve as a perpetual monument sacred to friendship.4 May not another Homer arise to consign yours for Fayette to equal immortality, and tears of pleasure flow at its recital like an exhaustless stream through the long period of future ages.

But if all this should prove no more than a dream of friendship, I hope for the sake of the object, that you will excuse the dreamer for troubling you with his vision,5 who be assured when awake, is and has always been affectionately and truly your most obt & hble st

James McHenry

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, DLC: James McHenry Papers.

2The Marquis de Lafayette currently was being held by the Prussians in the fortress at Neisse in the province of Silesia, and the Marquise de Lafayette was incarcerated in a prison at Brioude, France.

3“An Act allowing to Major General La Fayette his pay and emoluments while in the service of the United States,” 27 March 1794, granted Lafayette $24,424 for his service during the Revolutionary War (Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends . 6:14).

4On the friendship between the mythical Greek heroes Achilles and Patroclus, see the Iliad, an ancient Greek epic poem attributed to Homer.

5McHenry did not receive a special commission to negotiate Lafayette’s freedom. For a personal attempt by GW to obtain Lafayette’s release from prison, see his letter to Frederick William II of Prussia of 15 January. Lafayette, however, remained incarcerated until 1797.

Index Entries